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Call to speed up work on Beaminster tunnel
FRUSTRATED residents demanded more urgency to open Beaminster Tunnel as they face a June, 2013 completion date for repair work.
There was standing room only as more than 300 people packed the Public Hall in Beaminster to hear of Dorset County Council proposals.
Officers outlined two preferred options: l to stabilise the soil above the tunnel l build protective concrete hoods around its entrances.
In a show of hands, most residents backed the idea of the extensions around the tunnel openings but also called for more urgency and a partial re-opening while work was taking place.
Now the final decision is going to the council’s cabinet on November 7 before an anticipated start in the new year and a June, 2013 finish date.
County councillor Rebecca Knox, who represents the Beaminster ward, chaired the meeting.
County council bridge and structures manager John Burridge and structures principal engineer Matt Jones gave a presentation.
Residents called for the work to be speeded up and warned that businesses and surrounding road networks were suffering Doug Beazer suggested a partial re-opening with temporary traffic lights to allow traffic through while work continues on sections on the other side of the road.
He said: “I feel passionately about this town. Once the shops have gone it’s unlikely they will ever come back. We need to all we can to get that tunnel open as soon as possible.”
Shopkeeper Robin Samways warned that traders were quite a bit down on where they should be in takings.
Ronald Emett backed the option of stabilising the soil above the tunnel but also suggested temporary extension.
Kevin Bullock said: “A lot of people work outside Beaminster or come in to Beaminster to work.
“An atrocious winter is being forecast. What is going to happen when we get the snow and ice.
“What sort of re-dress are people going to get when they cannot get to work and lose wages?”
There were also calls for business rates rebates and concerns about road safety on diversions and rat runs nearby.
George Way told how the road gave way under his wife’s car driving up White Sheet Hill while other residents warned of the horrendous impact – particularly from lorries – on nearby country roads and lanes.
Steve Fincher was worried that the soil left on top of the tunnel could come down on the new structure if the hood is built.
Coun Rebecca Knox said that it was great to see such a large turnout of people although sadthat it was after the landslide tragedy.
She said that she hoped that council officers would be able to cut through as much red tape as possible to get the tunnel open as soon as possible.
Coun Knox said: “It is extremely frustrating for everybody that we have to go through some of these things.
“Let’s try and speed things up as much as we can.”
The council will need to gain planning permission and listed building consent for the work but also try to avoid undergoing an environmental impact assessment.
Coun Knox said that West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin is lobbying in London for funding to help pay for the cost of the work – estimated at £1.75million, Mr Burridge and Mr Jones insisted the council was working as quickly as possible to be ready to start work as soon as possible but it was not feasible to temporarily re-open the tunnel.
Mr Jones said that having the road open would get in the way of work to repair the tunnel.
The officers warned that the slopes are still at danger of landslides and that the safety of staff and public was a key issue.
They said official and non-official diversion routes would all be salted and gritted during the winter.
Visit the council’s website at dorsetforyou.com/beaminstertunnel for regular updates.
- November 7: county council cabinet decides on final option.
- November and December: detailed design work and planning application
- January: work to start June: work finishes and tunnel opens.
The project would have to gain planning permission and, potentially, listed building approval.
If an environmental impact assessment needs to be carried to judge the effect of work on the surrounding area this could delay the scheme by a couple of weeks.
It could take up to eight weeks for the planning application to go through and any objections would have to be considered.